Welcome to the eight installment in my ongoing examination of the notorious secret order known to posterity as the Thule Society. Over the course of the prior seven installments we have covered a lot of ground. Part one was mainly concerned with dispelling several popular misconceptions about Thule (i.e. Vril forces, UFOs, etc) while the second installment gave a brief rundown of the ideologies, organizations and personalities that helped shape Thule, most notably the occult doctrine of Ariosophy and the secret society known as the Germanenorden (of which Thule was a lodge of).
The third installment constituted an extensive examination of the man who founded Thule, Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorff, with a special emphasis on his occult studies in the Near East prior to World War I. Part four considered the early years of Thule while part five gave a broad overview of the Freecorps movement that developed in Germany in the wake of WWI. Thule would play a key role in nurturing the Freecorps movement and would actively help raise and equip several in a bid to overthrow the Bavarian Soviet Republic. That episode was examined in part six. The seventh and most recent installment considered Thule's post-Battle of Munich years and the influence it would have on the emerging Nazi Party as well as post-World War II fascist organizations such as the World Anti-Communist League (WACL).
|WACL member Wilhelm Landig would play a key role in crafting the heavily romanticized, sci-fi-centric image of Thule that began to gain prominence in pop culture during the second half of the twentieth century|
Part of the strangeness surrounding Thule involves the chief location from which the Society operated: Bavaria. Bavaria has of course become notorious to conspiracy theorists because of two secret societies that had their origins in this German state. Thule was of course one of them while the other was the long time bugaboo of the conspiratorial right: the Bavarian Illuminati.
|Adam Weishaupt, the notorious founder of the Bavarian Illuminati|
Prior to the conclusion of WWI even the Bavarian monarchy had a potentially bizarre connection to the occult underground: Maria Theresia of Austria-Este, wife of King Ludwig III of Bavaria, just happened to be the Stuart pretender to throne of England. Her death in 1919 would leave this claim with the House of Wittelsbach, the longtime ruling family of Bavaria. Presently Franz, Duke of Bavaria, is the current claimant. As I'm sure many readers are aware, the Stuart dynasty (who were originally the ruling family of Scotland) and their followers, known as Jacobites, have long been linked to the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
"Eventually, James, II was forced into exile in France where he died virtually destitute. His son (known as James III of England and James VIII of Scotland) was recognized as the rightful king by Louis XIV of France, but in England George, I ascended the throne, thus inaugurating the Hanoverian succession. James III (1688-1766) attempted to gain his throne in an invasion of Scotland in 1715, but was defeated. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, mainly in Rome. His son, the famous Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-88), attempted another takeover in 1745, but failed as well.
"The family and supporters of James II and his son James, III were known as the Jacobites, Jacobus being the Latin form of the English name James. Their exile in France and Italy served to romanticize their movement, especially as their claims to the throne had been recognized by the French and Spanish monarchs. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the last of the Jacobites to claim kingship.
"All during this time, Masonic lodges had functioned as underground meeting places for Jacobite supporters. While the lodges had struggled to maintain neutrality during the English Civil Wars of the seventeenth century – Elias Ashmole, the famous alchemist and founding member of the Royal Society was initiated a Freemason in a lodge composed of both Royalist and Parliamentarians in 1646 – the bond of brotherhood became more difficult to maintain. Into this romantic atmosphere espionage, intrigue, and 'pretenders to the throne' stepped one of the major personalities of modern Freemasonry: Chevalier Michael Ramsay.
"Ramsay (1681-1743) was a Scott who had attended Edinburgh University and the University of Leiden, and received a doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1730. For a while he moved in the same Pietist circles as Johannes Kelpius but, later converting to Catholicism and throwing in his lot with the Jacobites, he wound up in France and then Rome (in 1724) as the tutor of the young Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was also a Mason, and Grand Chancellor of the Paris Grand Lodge. His most lasting contribution to Freemasonry was a speech he made in 1737 in Paris, before a meeting of the Masonic lodge there. What he had to say caused reverberations down through the centuries, and Freemasonry is still struggling to come to terms with the ideas he presented there for the first time.
"In this speech he connected the practice of Freemasonry not with the stonemasons' guilds of medieval Europe, but with the nobles who conducted the Crusades in the Holy Land. Ramsay claimed – without actually mentioning the Knights Templar by name – that the chivalric orders that had operated in Palestine were the direct ancestors of the Freemasons; that their oath was not 'execrable' as had been claimed (and thus immediately connecting these orders with the accusations against the Templars); that they had only the highest ideals; that they recognized each other by passwords and signs in order to differentiate each other from the Saracens; and that later they had merged with the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (which is precisely what the Templars had done...). According to Ramsay, this is why their lodges were called lodges of St. John...
"Although Ramsay did not create the thirty-third degree system that is the structure Scottish Rite Masonry today, his insistence that Freemasonry descended from Crusader knights via Scotland and then to France was the impetus for a major Masonic revival in France and other parts of Europe. It was called the Scottish Rite, so as not to confuse it with the practices of the English lodges, which was just fine as far as the French were concerned. The Scots were the strange and exotic element in France, pretenders to the English throne, yet not really English themselves. What Ramsay said had a ring of truth about it, and his speech was copied and reprinted and distributed throughout the country. The Freemasons suddenly had an ancient European pedigree, but with the problematic association of heresy and 'execrable oaths' connected with the Knights Templar. Jacobitism and Freemasonry became conjoined."
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pgs. 100-102)
|the above-mentioned Jacobite Michael Ramsay|
|the insignia of the Knights Hospitaller|
The membership of individuals listed on the SOSJ's website is itself rather dubious, but Ludwig III and Prince Rupprecht are also listed as SOSJ members in longtime Grand Master Charles Pichel's History of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta (pgs. 81-82, though this source is also suspect). What's more, the Wittelsbach family fled Bavaria days before the collapse of the German Empire, but they seem to have returned by 1919. This researcher has been unable to uncover much information concerning the family's activities during the crucial 1918-1923 years we are primarily concerned with in general, but the family's restoration was bantered about had the Beer Hall Putsch been successful.
|Ludwig III (top) and Prince Rupprecht (bottom)|
According to the organization's "official" history (which should be taken with a massive grain of salt), this Crusader organization refashioned itself as a bulwark against communism following the Russian Revolution. Almost immediately the SOSJ supposedly took control of the Tsarist resistance. The Orders' website notes:
"... the first response against the socialist revolutionaries of the Kerensky Provisional Government came from Count Keller, OSJ. The Count immediately started working with German General Rudiger Von der Goltz to build a German-Russian army of monarchist volunteers in the Baltic. This cooperation between the German and Russian orders of St. John was the attempt to return both Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and a Romanoff Czar to their respective thrones...
"After the failed Kornilov Affair and imprisonment, followed by the October Revolution, many Guard officers were able to escape and flee to the Don Cossacks in the Ukraine. There they helped to create the Volunteer Army with the assistance of Ukrainian separatists. Generals Alekseev, Denikin, Kornilov, Kolchak and Keller were the early leaders and they started the Russian Civil War to defeat the Bolsheviks.
"Grand Duke Cyril was now the legal heir to the Russian throne as he was third in line behind the heir of Czar Nicholas II, his son Alexei and the Czar’s brother Grand Duke Michael. Grand Duke Cyril gave his support to the remnant of the SOSJ headed by Count Keller and his fellow Knights. The Russian Order of St. John rallied to form a secretive organization of officers and civilian nobility called alternately the Brothers of the White Cross and the White Cross Society under Generals Markov and Count Keller and the monarchist politician Markov II. The Russian Grand Duke Cyril and the German Grand Duke of Hesse were members of the organization as German monarchists assisted the White Cross effort to rescue their kin, the Czarina Alexandra and her family. American Lt. Col. Joseph Boyle and his machine gun detachment may have been part of this effort by the Order to rescue members of the Imperial family. Among the conspirators was the son-in-law of Rasputin and the Czarina's best friend Anna Vyrubova. Czarina Alexandra delayed the rescue plans of the Brothers of the White Cross several times in her effort to regain the throne. Her delays ultimately prevented the Brotherhood from following through with their plans to free the Imperial family due to the progressive consolidation of Bolshevik control. The Imperial family was murdered by the Bolsheviks in July, 1918. The Czarina had reportedly used the symbol of the swastika repeatedly during her captivity, had often referred to the Brothers of the White Cross and had only two books in her possession during her final captivity. One of them was the Nilus book containing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These findings fueled the hatred of the Bolsheviks and of their conspiracy for global domination. The historical record shows that Count Keller and most of the well known General officers from the SOSJ fought for Imperial Russia until killed in action against the Bolsheviks during the following year."
|the infamous Nilus book that would do so much to advance the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion|
"The swastika has been forever sullied: it can never be used again without arousing memories of the most uncomfortable kind. Originally it was an elegant and decorative symbol, capable infinite variations and embodying profound meanings... Besides its adoption as the special sun-sign of the Aryan Race by German anti-Judaic groups in the late nineteenth century, it also played a strange part in linking the events in Germany with the no less momentous ones in Russia.
"Alexandra, the last Empress of Russia, inscribed the left-handed swastika... with the date 1918, on the wall of the house in Ekaterinburg where she and her family were murdered by the Bolsheviks. Henry Rollins, in his study of modern antijudaism, L'Apocalypse de notre temps (1939), offers several possible explanations: (1) the Empress had adopted the swastika as her talisman as a result of Theosophical contacts in her native Darmstadt or in Russia; (2) she had received it from her physician Badmaieff, a practitioner of Tibetan medicine; (3) she had seen it on holiday in the Baltic, where the peasants use it to decorate their houses; (4) she could have got it from one of the gypsy summoned to the imperial court for fortune-telling.
"However, the swastika served the Empress not merely as a talisman, but also as a secret sign of recognition in her correspondence. It was used, too, by a group of Russian monarchist who had taken refuge in Kiev and were collaborating with the German occupiers of the Ukraine; their plots for rescuing the Imperial Family were one of the reasons that the latter were removed to Ekaterinburg.
"Upon the defeat of Germany and the triumph of the Bolsheviks, a number of these Germanophilic Russians – several of them of Baltic origin – gravitated to the entourage of General Ludendorff, protector of Hitler. Among them was Lieutenant Chabelski-Bork, who had been at Ekaterinburg at the moment of discovery not only of the Empress' swastika, but also, in the pathetic handful of possessions left behind, her copy of Serge Nilus' The Great and the Small: the work that contained the infamous forged 'Protocols of the Elders of Sion.' So here was 'proof,' for those eager for it, that the Imperial Family had fallen victim not merely to the Communists but to the great Jewish conspiracy described in the 'Protocols,' of whom the Bolsheviks were agents.
"Chabelski-Bork would be instrumental in distributing the 'Protocols' outside Russia; in Germany, their publication was exactly what was needed to fan to a flame the smouldering antijudaism kindled by the Aryan theorists. In 1919, the swastika served as the flag for the Baltic uprising against the Bolsheviks, led by General von der Goltz. In Berlin, the following year, it flew over the abortive Kapp Putsch. In the summer of 1920, Hitler chose the right-handed swastika as the symbol of his duel struggle against Jewry and communism. And the rest, as they say, is history."
(Arkos: The Polar History in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival, Joscelyn Godwin, pgs. 51-52)
|the diary of Empress Alexandra|
Chabelski-Bork would not be the only alleged SOSJ member to promote the Protocols either. SOSJ's official history claims that it was the driving force behind the spread of the Protocols in the post-WWI years, a claim not without some degree of merit as we shall see.
The use of the swastika by Empress Alexandra and its later use in the Baltic Campaign (more on that in just a moment) by the Freecorps is also interesting. The Empress was actually German, having been born in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, and was rumored to have been a German spy after his disastrous turn as Regent during World War I (though this was likely due to her utter political inexperience rather than deep political scheming). The swastika was first used by the Gemranenorden, the parent society of Thule, around 1912 and thus before the war. But whether the Empress would have had any contact with the Germanenorden is difficult to say.
Besides the swastika, the Batlic Freecorps also employed the totenkopf as a symbol. The totenkopf was first used by Prussian Hussars during Frederick the Great (who was an initiate of the Rosicrucians)'s reign by the Germans (at least in an official capacity). The symbol was later used by some stroomtrooper units during WWI and eventually adopted as the insignia of the SS. A variation on the totenkopf is also used by the notorious Yale secret society known as Skull and Bones. Skull and Bones, one of whose founders studied in Germany for a time, is long been rumored to have originated from a German secret society.
|the flag of the Iron Division (top), one of the primary German Freecorps to fight in the Baltic, and the symbol of Skull and Bones (bottom)|
"Unfortunately, their heir, Alexei, was a hemophiliac. The torment such a close family had to deal with cannot be judged by the modern talking class... Rasputin, having been received by the Tsar's family as a holy man, and healer, was able to maintain the loyalty of the empress solely because he was able, inexplicably, to cure Alexei of his bleeding, internally or externally. It cannot be the historian's role to judge the Empress' reaction to this ability; but a mother does what she needs to do. End of story. Nonetheless, St. Nicholas did not trust Rasputin and frequently would send the police on his trail. In these police reports we get the descriptions of the dozens of typically slutty high society women who were seduced, drunkenly, by Rasputin. Eventually, members of the royal family murdered the 'holy man.'
(The Third Rome, Matthew Raphael Johnson, pg. 220)
|Mignola's depictions of Kroenen (top) and Rasputin (bottom)|
"The belief in an international socialist conspiracy led by Zionists was central to their understanding of the revolution. Count Keller also worked with monarchist German General Rudiger Von der Goltz to start a German backed government in the Baltic and recruited Russian POW’s in Germany for this army. As noted earlier their combined plan was to join their forces in an attempt to replace the rightful monarchs both in Germany and in Russia. Colonel Bermondt was the chief of counter intelligence for the Southern Army under Hereditary Knight Commander George Duke Leuktenburg, OSJ. Major Walter Nicolai, head of all German military intelligence during World War I, was assigned to work with Bermondt by the famous German General Ludendorff. They promoted the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion and the international conspiracy theory widely among the White Russian and later among the German troops in the Baltic."This isn't exactly accurate, but the Baltic Campaign effectively marked the beginning of the relationship between the exiled White Russian community and reactionary German parties. Germany had won on the Eastern Front during WWI and had acquired the Baltic nations with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. After at armistice with the Allies German troops began to withdraw but Freecorps under the above mentioned General Von der Goltz soon began to take their place. Weary of the Baltic falling to the Soviets, the Allies initially consented to this move. Von der Goltz forged an alliance with the Tsarist "Baltic Barons" who had controlled the region for centuries and began recruiting Freecorps back in Germany.
|von der Goltz|
The British began arming and training a force of Latvians and Estonians in mid -June and demanded the removal of the German Freecorps men from the Baltic. The Weimar Republic agreed and demanded Von der Goltz's return. But the crafty general got around this order by encouraging his men to join the service of the White Russian forces of the Baltic Barons under the command of the bizarre figure known as Prince Awaloff-Bermindt. The SOSJ would have us believe it was behind this appointment.
"Bermondt was first addressed by the royal title of Prince Awaloff in September, 1919. Prince Awaloff states that he was adopted at this time by Prince Michael Awaloff from whom he gained the royal title. Records are unavailable and since there was uncertainty in 1919 about where the title came from it is possible that Bermondt was elected Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem which would have given him the royal title of Prince. We must wait for further information to confirm this suspicion and we therefore retain the claims of Grand Duke Alexander as Grand Master during this period. During the Baltic campaign, Rudolf Baron von Engelhardt and Baron Engelhardt-Schnellenstein, both close relatives of Lt. Grand Master Alphons Heribert Scipio Baron von Engelhardt-Schnellenstein (1954-1956) and Admiral Felix Count von Luckner, who also became the Lt. Grand Master of the OSJ (1962-1966) worked with Prince Awaloff in the Baltic venture. The Bavarian Freikorps, some of whom were associated with the Stewart Pretender, Crown Prince Rupprecht, wore the Maltese Cross. (The connection between the Royal Stuart Jacobite Pretender in Bavaria and the Order is not fully understood. We do know that General Hume did have a relationship with the Crown Prince.)"
"Colonel Bermondt had served without distinction in the Imperial Russian Army during the war. After the revolution, he advertised his sentiments – and flaunted his somewhat dubious pedigree – by adopting his maternal uncle's name. He thus became General Prince Pawel Michaelovich Awaloff-Bermondt. He liked to think of himself as a dashing adventurer, a great – if syphilitic – lover, and a brilliant military leader. He believed that he had been sent by destiny to reconquer the whole of Bolshevik Russia and thus make it a land fit for aristocrats like himself. With some of these things in mind, he had come to the Baltic early in the year and had begun to organize a few former Russian prisoners of war into what he pleased to call the 'Russian Army of the West.' After General Judenitsch had coldly rebuffed him, Bermondt turned to the Germans.
"The Free Corps commanders had little respect for either Bermondt or his fantastic schemes. They agreed with the French military observer who said that he was 'the colonel of operettas and the prince of comedies.' Nevertheless, they realized that he could be very useful to them. For by giving this Russian formal command over their troops, the German Free Corps leaders could always tell the Berlin government and the Entente that they had nothing whatever to do with 'the Russian Army of the West.' It is not surprising, therefore, that as soon as the reaction against the Free Corps set in, von der Goltz did everything in his power to champion the cause of the Russian poseur..."
(Vanguard of Nazism, Robert G.L. Waite, pgs. 123-124)The SOSJ's official history would have us believe that the only thing that stopped Awaloff-Bermondt's victory was the betrayal of German and British governments:
"The Western Russian Volunteer Army of Prince Awaloff initially gained advantage and took Riga from the Bolsheviks. However, the British Naval Squadron that had been supporting the left flank of General Yudenitch’s drive into St. Petersburg for political reasons abandoned Yudenitch and directed its guns upon Awaloffs’ forces. This intervention caused the defeat of both the SOSJ anti-Bolshevik force of Prince Awaloff and of the drive into St. Petersburg by General Yudenitch. The Knights of St. John ultimately retreated into Germany due to lack of support from the socialist Weimar Government and the treason of the Entente British and French governments. These entities propped up the Bolshevik regime which was about to crumble. The result of this intervention was 75 years of Communist dictatorship for a large portion of the world. The Knights of this army of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem became known as the 'Baltic Brotherhood.'"
|the only surviving flag of the "Russian Army of the West", which does indeed display the Knights Hospitaller insignia|
"Bermondt's army of German Freebooters was disastrously defeated in brief campaigns during October and November 1919. Not the least of the reasons for the defeat was Bermondt himself. He had no conception of how to conduct a military campaign and his vaulting egotism would not allow him to take advice from anyone. Whatever slim chances he had for success depended, in large measure, on the extent of the native support he might win over. But Bermondt lacked the subtlety even of von der Goltz. One of his first acts was to issue a bombastic proclamation which announced that Latvia could henceforth consider itself a Russian province and would soon be placed under the Czar. In the meantime, it would be ruled by the futures Czar's representative, General Prince Awaloff-Bermondt. His fantastic schemes for raising money did nothing to reassure the local population. When German industrialists failed to contribute as much as he had anticipated, Bermondt issued his own currency and used the 'Imperial Russian estates in the Baltic' (that is, lands now belonging to the Estonians and Latvians) as backing. When no one recognized his money, he hit upon another scheme. He said he would recruit local slave labor to operate sawmills, which would ship paper pulp to Germany and Western Europe.
"The predictable result of these acts was that when Bermondt launched his ill-conceived offensive against Riga, he was met by the furious resistance of native forces. The Latvian army, now well-equipped from British arsenals and aided by the bombardment for British naval guns, threw back the attack on Riga and began a counteroffensive, which pushed Bermondt's starving, ragged, dysentery-ridden Freebooter army relentlessly westward.
"In their retreat, the Freebooters engaged in a wanton destruction of native property which is explicable only in psychological terms. They had been thwarted and frustrated and they found the realization of personal powerless unbearable. They therefore began to destroy all those objects which reminded them of their own lack of security..."
(Vanguard of Nazism, Robert G.L. Waite, pgs. 129-130)
So yes, the SOSJ's official account of the Baltic Campaign is rather dubious. Indeed, there's little evidence the Awaloff-Bermondt even had any affiliation with the SOSJ. He is not listed, for instance, in longtime Grand Master Charles Pichel's History of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jersalem, Knights of Malta. Of course a lot of individuals who seem to have had close ties to the SOSJ are also not listed in the Pichel book, but even circumstantial ties are hard to document.
The chief figure behind the SOSJ in the early years was seemingly Grand Duke Cyril, the most powerful of the claimants to the Russian throne in the exile community. According to both the John J. Stephan's The Russian Fascists and Kevin Coogan's Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International, Cyril was closest to General Vasily V. Biskupsky as far as former Tsarist military men were concerned. The Stephan's book paints Biskupsky as something of a rival of Awaloff-Bermondt's and notes that the former was rebuffed by Von der Goltz for command of the Baltic forces.
Awaloff-Bermondt, however, later became affiliated with an organization known as the Russian National Socialist Movement (ROND). The Coogan book indicates that there may have been later ties between the ROND and Cyril's network (of which the SOSJ was his chief American component). ROND seems to have been founded in Munich in either the 1920s or 1930s and was heavily staffed with Baltic veterans. Further muddying the waters is that the above-mentioned Chabelski-Bork seems to have had ties to both Awaloff-Bermondt and Biskupsky. The Russian Fascists reports that Chabelski-Bork was something of a protege of Biskupsky (pg. 24), but that he was also brought into the ROND by Awaloff-Bermondt (pg. 26).
"Although the radical right foundered inside Russia, it found students in German exile, particularly among fledgling Nazis in 1919-23. Berlin and Munich teemed with displaced Russian, Baltic German, and Ukrainian rightist during these years. Many were former aristocrats, army officers, and politicians who had fought in one of the White armies or under the banners of General von der Goltz's Freikorps along the Baltic. Dazed by events that had stripped them of family, possessions, and homeland, they grasped at the notion that Jews and Asiatics had masterminded revolution in Russia and were about to do the same in western Europe. Some of these émigrés exerted no little influence on Adolf Hitler..."
(The Russian Fascists, John J. Stephan, pg. 18)Few seem to have exerted more than Cyril and the nucleus of what became the SOSJ. We shall examine the Bavarian days in detail in the next installment. Stay tuned.